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Notre Dame Football: A gentlemen’s review of the fifth spring practice

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We’re keeping an eye on it

Gregory Scarpa

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally allowed a full day of access to the media with its fifth spring football practice. With the length of time between the bowl game and now, this first healthy chunk of Irish football is equal parts a shot of adrenaline in the arm and stark reminder of the long road ahead.

Translation: It’s incredibly exciting to see the new version of the team out there with the new coaching staff, but there’s still a ton of work to be done — and that’s what they’re doing in South Bend.

So let’s break this down like gentlemen via solid reports from Irish Illustrated and Blue and Gold...

SOPHOMORE FULLBACK TANDEM. The most exciting thing to me is the return of the fullback. Sophomore walk-ons Barrett Liebentritt (#50) and Sherwood Davis (#38) are there for the honor. Let’s see if Tommy Rees actually does what must be done.

I LIED. The most exciting thing to hear was Audric Estime running as the #1 RB (for a few). He was, and will forever remain my guy. Obviously with the running back room a little dinged up with Chris Tyree nursing an ankle, there are more reps to be spread around.

I DON’T BELIEVE THE CHARADE. While I actually like Drew Pyne quite a bit, I don’t believe anything when it comes to a quarterback competition with Tyler Buchner. It’s going to be Buchner as QB1 and Pyne definitely needs to be ready to save the season if needed — but I’m not going to pretend this is a real QB showdown. This isn’t personal — it’s just business.

PODCASTER BALLER. You have to love it when one of the players that stands out the most is your walk-on wide receiver slash podcast host. Connor Ratigan impressed on Saturday which likely annoys many people out there, but it is what it is (and I’m fine with that).

NARROW RECEIVER ROOM. With Avery Davis out still recovering from an injury, the WR depth chart was already thin. On Saturday, Deion Colzie wore a red jersey and was fresh off of concussion protocol. Lorenzo Styles (who looked every bit the part of a #1 WR) got his body put 2 feet in the earth by D.J. Brown and was down for a while on the ground in pain. We knew coming into spring that the numbers will play a little bit of a problem for Notre Dame, but the reports from Saturday is an even deeper reminder that we are just a few plays away from disaster. Joe Wilkins also impressed on Saturday until he dinged up his recovered knee a little bit. I like the guys we have but I’m still ready for ND to grab one or two more from the portal.

LINING UP. The #1 unit for the offensive line was LT Joe Alt, LG Andrew Kristofic, C Zeke Correll, RG Josh Lugg, and RT Blake Fisher. With Jarrett Patterson out with his pectoral injury, now is certainly the time for Correll to get all the reps in that he can. Other than center because of injury, I think the biggest questions left are 1) Will Rocco Spindler push Kristofic for more playing time? 2) Who else is available as injuries can, do, and will happen? The first question is too tricky to tackle at the moment. The second question is almost as tricky, but both Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody received praise for their play.

6 FOR 3. We’ve talked a little about this on the OFD Podcast, but now we’re seeing it in practice. The frontline linebackers of MIKE Bo Bauer, WILL Marist Liufau, and SNIPER Jack Kiser looks like the way to go. Behind them are MIKE J.D. Bertrand, WILL Prince Kollie, and SNIPER Jordan Botelho. There are obvious questions here about that depth chart, but for everyone not named Botelho, there seems to be a clear path. With Jordan, finding the right spot for him is becoming a big task that may go uncompleted this spring. We all had an early infatuation with Botelho because of the edge he plays with on the field, but that edge hasn’t helped him off the edge or in coverage.

BUILDING ANOTHER ROTATION. With Jayson Ademilola and Aidan Keanannina out with an injury, the Irish still have plenty to work with along the defensive line. Isaiah Foskey is going to be an animal in 2022, and so we move on. Jason Onye got reps at the nose which is considerable considering his height. Tyson Ford is another youngster that saw time at NT along with Jacob Lacey. The strongside DE spot saw a big number of bodies in Alexander Ehrensberger, Justin Ademilola, NaNa Osafo-Mensah, and Rylie Mills all got work there. BASICALLY... Al Washington is going to have a process to find those 8-9 players to rotate, and it seems like there is plenty to work with.

THE BIGGEST VOID. Replacing Kyle Hamilton is a cruel trial. Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph had a good day and got some Alohi Gilman type praise — and he probably deserves it (as it fits very neatly). I’m just not sure how Houston Griffith fits in this rotation with D.J. Brown and Ramon Henderson right there as well.

BRACE YOURSELF. TaRiq Bracy impressed everyone on Saturday with his play and with his improved body stature. Perhaps Bracy will take over the starting role opposite of Cam Hart, but it still seems like Clarence Lewis has that spot with Bracy playing that all important nickel position.

FIGHT NIGHT? It’s funny how Marcus Freeman’s opening statement to start spring football included some unprompted notes about “fights” and in this first open practice there were some widely reported moments. D.J. Brown laid out a defenseless Lorenzo Styles and tried offering an apology, but was told to do something else by Styles. Connor Ratigan and freshman Jayden Mickey exchanged some words and got a bit chippy as well. Nothing like the Eric Olsen scrapping of the Weis era — but interesting to note none-the-less.

LAST BIT. There was a lot to report on with a full practice, but mostly after 13 of spring ball in the books, the most accurate thing we can say is that Marcus Freeman and his new staff are working towards an unfinished product to be polished up in fall camp. We have a few injuries and some depth chart intrigue, but mostly it’s the general theme of getting better — which is a lot better than disaster.

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